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State Senate Moves Toward Sweeping Election Changes

Dave DeWitt

If you plan to vote in a future election in North Carolina, the Voter Information Verification Act– if it passes – affects you. That goes double if you are a younger voter, don’t have a driver’s license, like to vote early, or may ever be subject to a random challenge of your status as a voter.

“We’re going way backwards. We’re going way back,” said Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, a voting rights advocacy group. “The attitude that we hate young people. Young people cheat. We can’t trust them. We want to narrow the electorate. Just keep it narrowed and then get 50 percent plus one of that small group that comes. That’s our goal. That’s the goal that comes out of a 19th century mentality.”

Here’s a partial list of the proposed changes that has Hall so upset: The number of early voting days would be cut by a week; straight-ticket voting would be eliminated; no more same-day registration; any person who wants to challenge someone else’s eligibility to vote could do so, as long as they live in the same county; and young people would no longer be able to pre-register to vote when they are 16 or 17, so that they can cast a vote when they turn 18.

That last provision led to an exchange between Republican Senator Bob Rucho and Democrat Josh Stein in the Senate Rules Committee.

“My son turned 18 January 30th, missed this last ballot,” said Rucho. “Went through the school process and was pre-registered and the like, and it was very confusing as to when he was supposed to do that. What this does is offer some clarity and some certainty as to when that child or that young person is eligible to vote and is registered to vote and that’s what its designed to do.”

“Did your son not know he was 17 on election day?” replied Stein.

It was just the start of what would be an emotional and, at times, contentious committee meeting.

“The people here have spoken and they are with the demonstrators in the streets and not with the regressive and deceitful legislative practices taking place today,” said Joshua Vincent.

Committee Chair Tom Apodaca and the other Republicans on the committee didn’t answer the members of the public who spoke, but they did address questions from their fellow senators, including voter ID.

“Because people have confidence in the fact that everyone only votes once, their vote matters, and what that means is you have established integrity into the electoral process,” said Rucho.

His opinions are shared by the leadership of his party.

“There have been a number of complaints in a number of places about some aspects of early voting, the length of the early voting, the fact that you do it one way in one county, another way in another county,” Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger said. “We’re just trying to look at where we are, the kinds of problems we’ve had with some of the reforms that took place over the past several years and try to make improvements with them.”

Presumably, another of those improvements is allowing individual donors to give more money to candidates. The bill increases the maximum donation from $4,000 to $5,000 election. The bill’s authors say that amount could go up in the future, to keep pace with inflation.

Other changes include moving the state’s presidential primary date earlier, ending the requirement that candidates endorse ads run by their campaign, and easing the disclosure requirements for independent committees.

All of this is above and beyond what the original bill was supposed to address: voter ID. That was one of the Senate’s very first efforts, six months ago when the session began.

“You’re going to have a situation with this bill where you had people who voted all their lives who are going to show up to the polling place and not have what they need to vote,” said Democratic Senator Martin Nesbitt. “That is outrageous.”

The Senate Rules Committee passed the Voter Information Verification Act by a voice vote. It’s expected to come up before the full Senate as early as today.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Feature News Editor. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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